After reading my colleague Jon Blayne’s article on his Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling, I felt the need to write a version of my own.
Seeing as I love a good debate, sometimes even a good argument, I thought a forum like this would allow me to share a bit about my love of this business and how for the past 40 years (yikes) I have watched, yelled, cheered and yes even cried when the larger than life characters made their way down the aisle.
I grew up in the greatness of the NWA. I believe in the Dory Funk, Jr. spinning toe hold. I watched Harley Race and Ric Flair in the old Coliseum here in Jacksonville and listened to the gospel of Dusty Rhodes. I believed in “Hard Times” and could not get enough of the likes of Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine before they “jumped ship” and joined the Vince McMahon circus.
Yes, to me wrestling was real. Today’s version is nothing compared to how it was meant to be – a cathartic soap opera that had us tune in each Saturday morning to hear the dulcet tones of Gordon Solie. Admittedly, I would stand in front of a bathroom mirror and cut a promo like the late Ox Baker.
I guess you could say I am a true fan. And to be able to write about it makes me enjoy it even more.
Here is my Mount Rushmore of Professional Wrestling.
Ric Flair – You have to start with the best. The 16-time world champion and the greatest performer of all time. So much has been made about Flair vs. Hogan over who the greatest of all time is. There is no comparison. Flair was the greatest wrestler. Hogan was the greatest showman. To be the man, you have to beat the man. Not many have done that.
Flair is officially recognized by WWE and Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) as a 16-time world champion (eight-time NWA World Heavyweight Champion, six-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion, and two-time WWF World Heavyweight Champion), although the actual number of his world championship reigns varies by source, ranging from 16 to 25, while Flair considers himself a 21-time champion.
He is first in by opinion. And it’s not even close.
Vince McMahon – The greatest wrestling promoter of all time. The man who bought the WWWF from his father, had a vision and made wrestling what it is today. While I do not always agree with the product McMahon puts on television, there is no denying how brilliant he is.
McMahon decided to get away from the traditional style of the business, breaking down Kayfabe and added more entertainment value to shows and programs. With the addition of Hulk Hogan as his key babyface, he transformed the business. And eliminated the competition.
Promotions in the NWA and AWA could not compete with deep pockets and cartoon-like characters. Many wrestlers like Randy Savage, Greg Valentine, Chris Jericho and Steve Austin became worldwide superstars because of McMahon’s evil genius. His Mr. McMahon character will go down as one of the greatest villains ever.
Hulk Hogan – Anyone who knows me knows I am not a Hogan fan. I hate the character, I hate the self-promotion. But Hogan became a larger than like figure with minimal wrestling skill. Or without having to showcase skills.
When Hogan left the AWA to sign with McMahon, the wrestling business effectively died a slow, painful death. The right person at the right time. And to think if Hogan had not jumped on board, McMahon had Jimmy Snuka waiting in the wings.
Hogan is a twelve-time world champion: a six-time WWF World Heavyweight Champion/WWF Champion (with his last reign being as Undisputed WWF/WWE Champion) and a six-time WCW World Heavyweight Champion. He was the first wrestler to win consecutive Royal Rumbles, in 1990 and 1991 respectively. Hogan was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2005.
Gordon Solie – I put Solie on this list because he is still the greatest wrestling commentator ever in my opinion. There would not have been a Jim Ross, Lance Russell, Bob Caudill and others if not for the sounds of Solie.
Solie had a way of making a match larger than life as he worked for Florida Championship Wrestling and Georgia Championship Wrestling. His descriptive narration was some of the best play -by-play you would here. Often referred to as the Walter Cronkite of Wrestling, Solie would study the human anatomy to tell the fans watching television what each move did.
His catchphrases and his Solieisms are part of the wrestling lexicon. No one today can carry a microphone to his adaptation of wrestling to the sports world.